News Articles

Author challenges anonymity given child abuse tipsters

PURCELLVILLE, Va. (BP)–While the child abuse allegation
that inspired his best-selling novel didn’t involve an anonymous tip, Michael Farris said Christians should challenge the existence of such laws.

Until last year, every state had to allow anonymous reporting of child abuse, the focus of Farris’ book, “Anonymous Tip,” published under the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Broadman & Holman imprint.

The federal government required anonymous tip laws as a stipulation for receiving federal social service funds.

Even though Congress has repealed that provision, Farris said many states are treating it as a de facto regulation after being in effect for more than a decade.

“Christians should alert their legislators to the change in federal law,” said Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “They should start pushing at the state level to change the practice and the laws.”

The association maintains that when there is credible evidence of child abuse that parents should cooperate with authorities. However, he said there is a high correlation between anonymous tips of child abuse and a lack of credible evidence.

While nationally 60 percent of child abuse reports are unfounded, Farris estimated the rate soars to 90 percent or more when the caller knows his or her identity will be shielded.

Farris said he won a court case in Alabama involving an anonymous tip when the judge ruled such a call did not provide enough evidence for authorities to enter the person’s home.

“What I think needs to be done as a matter of policy is to refuse anonymous tips,” he said. “Tell people their names will be kept confidential. I have no problem with confidentiality. A judge can find out who it is (if needed).”

While Farris hasn’t sued specifically to stop anonymous tips, the issue arose recently in Connecticut. A woman there has sued the state Department of Children and Families after she was investigated five times — and each time cleared — for allegedly abusing and neglecting her children.

Susan Leventhal is challenging that state’s anonymous tip law. She told the Associated Press she believes the reports are rooted in racism, since she lives in a community that is 98 percent white and her children’s absentee father is Hispanic.

But a spokesperson for the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse said while anonymous reporting laws can be misused, that represents a small fraction of overall cases.

If anonymous tips are inspired by revenge, those people are guilty of harassment, Joy Byers said. She said such misuses should not inhibit people from reporting child abuse when they suspect it.

A friend or family member often reports such abuse, said the committee’s communications director. Were their identify to be revealed their fear of retribution, it would prevent them from reporting the incident, she argued.

“It is hoped that as many as can be will be made in good faith,” Byers said. “If we err, let us err on the side of a child’s safety. Sometimes a report is the only way to get a family help.

“So many children have been able to be helped because someone cared enough to make a report. Most child abuse occurs within the family. If someone decides to report it, it’s not done lightly at all.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker